How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress
Managing stress is all about taking charge: Taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun (plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on).
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about school or work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual assignment demands, that leads to deadline stress. To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses. Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.
There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the Four A’s: Avoid, Alter, Adapt, or Accept.
Not all stress can be avoided (and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs immediate attention), but you may be surprised by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate. Know your limits and stick to them. Remember:
- Avoid people who stress you out.
- Take control of your environment.
- Avoid hot-button topics.
- Cut down your To-Do list: Distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.”
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so that the problem will be less in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life:
- Express your feelings, instead of bottling them up.
- Be willing to compromise.
- Be more assertive: Set personal limits and boundaries
- Manage your time more efficiently.
If you can’t change the stressor, then you might have to change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude:
Reframe problems: Try a more positive perspective.
Look at the Big Picture: How important will this be in the long run?
Adjust your standards: No perfectionism…learn to be okay with “good enough.”
Focus on the positive: Reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life.
Adjust Your Attitude: Change your thinking: Eliminate words such as, "Always, Never, Should, and Must."
Some sources of stress are just unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation that you can’t change:
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable: Particularly the behavior of other people.
- Look for the upside: “What doesn’t kill us…makes us stronger.”
- Share your feelings: Talk to a friend, family member, or therapist.
- Let go of anger and resentments: Free yourself from negative energy by moving on.
The work you put in to reduce, prevent, and cope with stress will more than pay off in the long run.
About Ken Murray
Ken Murray, Ph.D., LPCC-S provides counseling services to children, adults, and families addressing a wide range of mental health concerns. Ken specializes in providing counseling for children and families and has experience with providing counseling for parent and leading parenting classes. For more information about Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.